Conservatives, Tribalism, and Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson supports Texas Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke, and conservatives are mad as hell.

Normally, this wouldn’t be news. But in the age of Trump, tribalism, and wonkery, it is.

A living American musical legend is a legend no more, at least not in conservative circles. You see, singer and songwriter, Willie Nelson, made the tragic mistake of announcing via his Facebook page that he will headline a rally on Sept. 29 for Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

According to a Raw Story article by Travis Gettys, “Conservatives angrily lash out at Willie Nelson for backing Beto O’Rourke: ‘I thought you were a patriot,’” quoted that a few users were incensed by Mr. Nelson’s public display of supporting a Democratic candidate.

Melanie Phillip wrote, “Good bye Willie…you are not on the right side.”

Alan July commented that Mr. Nelson should stick to “singing and smoking alittle weed.”

Rhonda Knapp stated, “Willie, your pot smoking has injured your brain! You would be well served to stay out of politics!”

And of course, there were accusations that Mr. Nelson is anti-American because nothing represents being anti-American more than being actively engaged in our democracy through political action [snark].

Who knew, that the role of an artist is not as provocateur and rebel, but meant only to be vanilla. Seemingly, based on the noise, an artist role must never involve one’s own opinion, politics, and religious beliefs. Artists must be sanitized. Am I understanding this right?

Foolish me for thinking an artist job was expression itself. Foolish me for enjoying the provocative, deep thinking, emotionally raw side of Mr. Nelson — and many other artists like Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan — all performers who wore dissent against war and injustice and breathed heartbreak and love so achingly— likes it’s tattooed on their lungs.

Take, for instance, Mr. Nelson’s song I’m A Worried Man:

“Worried Man. I’m a weary worried man. Hungry babies don’t understand a papa is a worried man.” What American living in urban, rural, or flyover country cannot identify with financial hardships and caring for a child? What man has not been distressed about economic disparity? Income inequality in this county is a real epidemic, especially along racial lines. Speaking about human struggles is both a creative force, but also a social and political one too. Where conservatives mad at Mr. Nelson for this song, then?

The Library of Congress honored Willie Nelson with the Gershwin Prize. In a performance at the event, Nelson addressed the Syrian refuges crisis through singing “[there’s] room for everybody,” in America. Where conservatives mad at Mr. Nelson then?

In 2017, Mr. Nelson spoke of his newer song, Delete and Fast, Forward, which was inspired by President Trump, “Delete and fast-forward the news. The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose. When we blow the whole world back to where it began. Just delete and fast-forward again.” Clearly, this song wasn’t complimentary to Trump — instead, inferring his obsession with accusing the media of “fake news” when coverage is not in his favor. Again, were conservatives mad at Mr. Nelson then?

What is clear is the immediate outrage has spiraled out of control. Look no further than the outrage conservatives amassed over the as-yet-to-be-released movie Frist Man about Neil Armstrong. Conservatives are counting on boycotts to ruin the movie box official appeal because the film doesn’t show Armstrong planting of the American flag. Note, I too was a little perplexed until I learned from critics — that have seen the film — that in fact, they do show the American flag on the moon. Despite personal feelings, boycotting of material you haven’t seen is truly reaching.

Now conservatives want to ban Willie Nelson from their lives because he’s performing at an event for a Democratic candidate. Seems clear to me, these conservatives aren’t fans of Mr. Nelson, as some pledged. It’s like they haven’t listened to a single song by Mr. Nelson. It isn’t a secret that his artist catalog is ripe with social and political provocation. Or that he has long advocated for Democratic candidates. The man is a weed-smoking, hippie loving, lefty.

On Willie, liberal commentator Ana Marie Cox wrote from Twitter, “Willie Nelson is a goddam national treasure if your politics prevent you from enjoying him then by all means just listen to Lee Greenwood on the repeat until your ears bleed.”

Another Twitter user, Jon Zal, joked, “Can’t drive Ford, can’t wear Nikes, can’t listen to Willie…pretty soon, these sorry [bleep] are going to be barefoot, dressed in potato sacks, listening to jug bands for entertainment.”

Here are more facts about Willie’s progressive leanings:

Nelson supported Obama, and once they performed a song On the Road Again at an event honoring troops. During the last presidential primaries, Willie Nelson endorsed Democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders.

Willie Nelson is “peace not war” kind of man. He’s for social justice, legalization of weed, and against crony capitalism. Conservatives, so what if Mr. Nelson politics is different from yours. What’s that got to do with his music and talent? Are you really that tribal that you cannot enjoy a living legend?



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store